• Cash, Check, or iPhone? Apple's NFC Plans Take Shape

    US users will soon be able to use their iPhones to pay for things in real-world stores with the help of a new program from credit card giant Visa. The payWave system is already in use with contactless "chip" cards at thousands of locations in North America, which use Near Field Communications (NFC) technology to exchange payment information securely. Visa's program will require the use of a special hardware dongle, but clues have been emerging steadily for some time that Apple is keenly interested in using NFC to allow iPhones and iPads to replace a couple of cards in your wallet: your credit card and your ID.

    NFC is a way for devices like smartphones, to collect data from another NFC device or an RFID tag when they're in very close contact. It's a lot like the RFID card-key readers and chip cards that are becoming increasingly common, but with the addition of a genuine two-way communication channel much like Bluetooth, except that in the case of NFC devices automagically make a connection rather than having to be explicitly "paired."

    Apple has been looking into the possibilities of enabling NFC support on its mobile devices for some time, as evidenced by patents for RFID readers built into the hardware that would identify objects in the phone's immediate surroundings, or allow you to log in to a wireless hotspot. More recently, a patent for an iTunes-based concert ticketing system explicitly referenced an NFC interface, as did the patent for the so-called "iTravel" service, which would allow people to use their iPhones for hotel and airline reservations, check-in and baggage identification, car rentals, and also as an electronic ID.

    Current phones lack the NFC interface (as, apparently, did the "lost and found" fourth-generation iPhone prototype). The Visa system will use a special iPhone case with a built-in microSD reader; the payWave NFC chip would be on a microSD card. A video of the device in use was briefly available yesterday on the PR Newswire site before it was taken down.
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